A Republican congresswoman on Wednesday pressed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the Biden administration's deployment of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the border, wanting him to admit that the situation is an "emergency."
Mayorkas was called to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee, answering questions about Department of Homeland Security operations and responding to lawmakers' concerns over the migrant crisis at the southern border.
At the hearing, Mayorkas declined to characterize the recent surge of migrant apprehensions and overwhelmed border protection facilities as a "crisis" or even an "emergency," despite the Biden administration deploying FEMA to the border to assist with caring for thousands of unaccompanied children now in the federal government's custody.
During questions, Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) asked if Mayokas could "tell me what FEMA stands for?"
"Federal Emergency Management Administration," Mayorkas replied. (The "A" in FEMA actually stands for "Agency.")
"Excellent, so, since FEMA has now deployed to the border, that would stand to reason that there is an emergency on the border, correct?" Cammack followed up.
"We have a very serious challenge at the border, and we are tackling it," Mayorkas said, displeasure evident in his tone.
Later, Cammack shared the story of her high school classmate Amber Scott, who was kidnapped by an illegal immigrant who had been deported multiple times.
"I think when you have policies that incentivize folks to come over illegally and we don't have the proper mechanisms in place to protect our borders — as you say, FEMA has been deployed and they are an emergency agency — that kind of impact has resounding effects," she told Mayorkas before asking, "How many more Ambers have to be kidnapped across America before you will take action?"
Mayorkas was offended by the question.
"Congresswoman, I find that question to be extraordinarily disrespectful," he told her. "Disrespectful not only to me, but disrespectful to the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security and to all the frontline personnel throughout this country who dedicate themselves to the safety and security of the American people."
"I'm sorry you feel that way," Cammack replied. "I'm sure the American people feel very disrespected about the border situation they're facing right now."
.@DHSgov Sec. Mayorkas called one of my questions "extraordinarily disrespectful" when I mentioned a classmate's ki… https://t.co/BkqijRuFxc— Congresswoman Kat Cammack (@Congresswoman Kat Cammack)1616004768.0
Republican lawmakers grilled Mayorkas over the Biden administration's handling of the migrant crisis at the southern border. They accused President Joe Biden's policies of incentivizing illegal immigration, charging that the U.S. border is effectively an open border because of Biden's reversal of President Donald Trump's policies.
The "border is secure and the border is not open," Mayorkas told lawmakers, acknowledging that the situation is "undoubtedly difficult."
Addressing the migrant surge in his opening remarks, the secretary said, "Most are single adults who are expelled within hours back to Mexico, pursuant to the CDC's public health authority."
""Families who are apprehended at the border are also immediately expelled under the same public health authority unless we confront at times a limitation on Mexico's capacity to receive them," he added.
As for unaccompanied children, the Biden administration ended Trump's policy of sending them back to Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is currently in custody of 4,200 children, who have been placed in detention centers, facing reportedly horrific conditions as they wait to be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement for processing and placement with family and sponsors already in the country.
"Their families made the heart-wrenching decision to send them on a journey across Mexico to provide them with a better, safer future," Mayorkas said.
Republicans said Biden's policies were incentivizing migrants to travel to the U.S., contributing to the dire situation in overwhelmed DHS and HHS facilities.
"Through irresponsible rhetoric and actions by this administration, worsening unprecedented crisis unfold during a pandemic, the situation at the border continues to get worse every day, with inadequate action or even proper acknowledgment of the severity of the situation," committee ranking member Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) said.
Another Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), credited President Trump with successfully deterring illegal immigrants from entering the country.
But Mayorkas criticized the Trump approach, saying, "Sometimes, the tools of deterrence defy values and principles for which we all stand. And one of those tools of deterrence that the Trump administration employed was deplorable and absolutely unacceptable," adding that Trump's family separation policies were the real "humanitarian crisis."
"A crisis is when a nation is willing to rip a 9-year-old child out of the hands of his or her parent and separate that family to deter future migration," he said. "That, to me, is a humanitarian crisis. And what the president has committed to, and what I am committed to and execute, is to ensure that we have an immigration system that works and that migration to our country is safe, orderly, and humane."
Committee Democrats blamed the Trump administration for causing the current migrant crisis.
Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Mayorkas and Biden's DHS have been "left to deal with the mess the last administration left behind."
"Let me be clear, the Trump administration's cruel, shortsighted policies directly contributed to the situation at the border now," Thompson said.